The Power of Group Therapy in PHP/IOP Treatment
Living with an eating disorder is often an isolating experience. The constant battle with intrusive thoughts, maladaptive behaviors, and overwhelming emotions can make people feel trapped within their own minds, detached from the world around them.
The path to healing lies in reaching out and nurturing meaningful connections with others. At Veritas, we use a multidisciplinary approach, combining the expertise of professionals from various fields to address the physical, psychological, and emotional aspects of the disorder. In addition to individual sessions with medical providers, dietitians, psychiatric providers, and therapists, group therapy is a pillar of our treatment. It is incorporated across our continuum of care levels, including our partial hospitalization (PHP) and intensive outpatient (IOP) programs.
Read on to learn the power of group therapy in Veritas Collaborative’s PHP and IOP programs.
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The Purpose of Group Therapy in Eating Disorder Treatment
At Veritas, our comprehensive treatment approach includes a variety of therapeutic components to support patients on their journey to recovery. Alongside medical management, psychiatry services, nutrition counseling, individual therapy, and therapeutic meals, group therapy plays a crucial role in the healing process. These sessions take place in a safe, judgment-free space where patients can reflect on their behaviors and thoughts related to their eating disorder. By engaging in therapy with others facing similar challenges, patients can find community and support while navigating their own journey.
In Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy, Irvin Yalom outlines 11 key “therapeutic factors” present in group therapy. These factors provide insight into the benefits of group therapy at Veritas Collaborative:
- Instillation of Hope: Creates a feeling of optimism.
- Universality: Demonstrates that patients are not alone in their suffering and that others are willing to support them.
- Imparting of Information: Educates group members on the specific topics that relate to the problems they are facing.
- Altruism: Offers a sense of purpose and significance by helping other group members.
- Corrective Recapitulation of Primary Family Group: Presents the opportunity to discuss childhood events and create another family that understands the eating disorder experience firsthand.
- Development of Socializing Techniques: Encourages and improves social skills, such as empathy, boundaries, tolerance, and conflict resolution.
- Imitative Behavior: Aids in patients unlearning unhealthy coping methods by witnessing fellow group members apply constructive methods to their lives.
- Interpersonal Learning: Provides an opportunity for group members to learn about relationships and intimacy.
- Group Cohesiveness: Gives group members a sense of belonging and acceptance. In turn, this can help patients feel secure in themselves and their group members and make change possible.
- Catharsis: Releases pent-up emotions and brings a sense of relief.
- Existential Factors: Allows patients to ponder the meaning of life. With the support of the group, patients can learn to accept that obstacles in life are a part of the human condition.
In addition to structured group discussions, these benefits of group therapy also result from hands-on activities and outings. The aim of these hands-on experiences is to empower patients to apply the coping skills they learned in groups in everyday life once they are discharged.
Taken together, these therapeutic benefits highlight the impact of group therapy on a patient’s healing journey at Veritas Collaborative, reinforcing the power of community and support in the recovery process.
What Do PHP and IOP Entail?
Veritas’ PHP and IOP programs are appropriate for patients who do not require 24/7 monitoring but could benefit from greater structure and support than non-intensive outpatient treatment can provide. These levels of care offer more flexibility than inpatient or residential treatment, allowing the patient to live at home or at a lodging facility while they receive professional care throughout the week. Patients can transfer from another level of care to intensive programming, or they can start their treatment experience there.
A breakdown of PHP and IOP programming:
- PHP: 5 days a week, 6 hours a day (as well as weekend programming at specific sites)
- 2.5 hours for therapeutic meals and snacks
- 3.5 hours for group programming
- IOP: 4 days a week, 3 hours a day
- 1 hour for a therapeutic meal
- 2 hours of group programming
PHP and IOP Group Therapy
Veritas Collaborative offers a wide variety of groups in PHP and IOP, including:
- Structured Group Discussion: Structured group discussions allow patients to come together with a therapist to discuss topics chosen by the therapist or the cohort (e.g., preparing for holidays, talking to family members about what they can do to support you in recovery, etc.). This is not an open process group, but rather a guided discussion. Patients receive and provide feedback to each other and the therapist, creating a safe, collaborative place for growth and healing.
- Skills Instruction Groups: The core interventions included in skills-based groups are dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Other groups that offer guidance on a variety of therapeutic skills include boundaries/interpersonal relationships, body image/body acceptance, embracing recovery, cope ahead, mindfulness walks, and life skills/vocational.
- Self-Monitoring Groups: Self-monitoring groups include self-awareness activities such as goal setting, weekend planning, self-observation form/thought records, behavior chain analysis, diary card completion, outcome measures/self-reporting, and therapeutic homework. These groups allow patients to assess their own progress and reflect on their journey.
- Psychoeducation Groups: Psychoeducation groups offer valuable insights into various topics, including anxiety, medical complications of eating disorders, perfectionism, depression, OCD, and health education. These sessions empower patients to better comprehend and effectively cope with their psychological challenges.
- Expressive Arts Groups: Expressive arts groups incorporate creative activities such as yoga, art group, art therapy, music group, music therapy, and joyful movement. These groups vary from site to site.
- Nutrition groups: Nutrition groups include topics such as nutrition education, culinary skills, and nutrition experiential (e.g., grocery store outings, butter sculpture creation, etc.). Patients also participate in meal outings (i.e., go out to eat) or meal innings (have takeout delivered) to prepare for these eating scenarios when discharged from treatment.
Healing is Within Reach
Group therapy is a major facet of Veritas Collaborative’s integrated approach to eating disorder treatment. Because eating disorders encourage isolation and shame, healing from an eating disorder is enhanced by social connection, feeling accurately seen and supported, and knowing that you are not walking the journey alone.
About the Author
Dr. Sydney Brodeur-Johnson (she/her) is the Senior Director of Clinical Services and Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion at Accanto Health, the parent company of Veritas Collaborative, The Emily Program, and Gather Behavioral Health. Her passion is providing best-practice, research-informed, and multiculturally competent treatment to patients and their families suffering with eating disorders. She is committed to increasing access to effective treatment, training professionals to deliver gold-standard care, and empowering them to be the best providers and people they can be.
Dr. Brodeur received her PhD in Counseling Psychology from Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) in 2005 and completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a concentration in the interdisciplinary treatment of adolescents with eating disorders. She assisted with the opening of Carolina House, a residential eating disorder treatment center in Durham, NC, and was its first Center Director. From 2008–2019, Sydney served as the eating disorder specialist and Associate Director for Training at University Counseling Services at VCU. In that role, she maintained APA accreditation of the psychology internship program and was the administrator for the training program for students in psychology, social work, and counselor education. She also served as a member of the Center’s executive team.
In her free time, Sydney enjoys spending time with her children and partner, being outdoors, listening to music, and traveling.